“This is the house I was raised in,” Dave Ormrod said, motioning to a farm house adorned with blue shingles. “It was built about 1928 and my dad bought the farm in 1942. And ’42 was the year I was born.”
Like his childhood home in Milner, Ormrod has a colourful history.
And at 75 years young, he’s still picking.
Farming and agriculture is in Ormrod’s DNA; he has had dirt underneath his fingernails since he was six years old.
These days, Ormrod continues to operate Dave’s Orchard at 5910 216 St., where tree fruits and vegetables have been grown for more than 70 years.
Apples, pears and potatoes are the main crops but Dave’s Orchard also harvests a wide range of vegetables. The farm also has cut flowers (zinnias, asters, and sunflowers) and Christmas trees in season.
“I work from seven in the morning till whatever time it gets dark at night,” Ormrod said. “Everything has to be looked after; there’s a lot of work involved in producing any crop. Nothing grows by itself so you’ve gotta do all kinds of things to make it happen.”
Ormrod won’t stop working, and he’s receiving a huge helping hand from his daughter Brandie, who he says inspires him to continue farming.
“When I sit down I fall asleep,” he explained.
He continued, “It’s no value to me. The only thing I enjoy watching on TV are the Blue Jays games and the football games. And I even fall asleep watching the football games. So automatically when I sit down on a chair, I fall asleep. So what’s the sense of retiring? I’m going to be sleeping and having nightmares.”
Ormrod spent the first 18 years of his life at his childhood home before leaving the nest in 1960 to pursue agriculture at UBC.
Many years later, he returned, bought the farm from his parents John and Ruby, and in 1977 had another home built on the property.
He still lives in that home.
In its original incarnation, the property was a dairy farm.
“All the farms around here were called mixed farms,” Ormrod said. “And they had, like, 20 cows and 200 chickens and apple trees, and different vegetables and stuff like that.”
As a young boy, Ormrod learned the trade.
“I’ve got a picture of me driving a tractor when I was less than 10,” he said. “I used to come home (from university) on the weekends and do the hard work for him (his dad). He couldn’t do it all himself. I’d work on Saturday and Sunday before going back to UBC.”
While at UBC, Ormrod lived in an apartment near the university. “They put the rental up from $75 to $85 a month and that made me so angry, that I went out and bought a house.”
He purchased a house in Vancouver for $15,000, and two years later took a job with the Ministry of Agriculture based out of Cloverdale. Ormrod worked for the ministry as a plant pathologist for 30 years.
Along the way, he sold the house in Vancouver for $26,000 (“I made a clear profit of $11,000,” he said.)
With his new-found wealth (so to speak) Ormrod paid somewhere in the neighbourhood of $23,000 for a farm not far from his family’s property in Milner.
“I tried farming it for a while… but this farm was horrible,” Ormrod said, “because it was way too wet and the soil was awful.”
After a handful of years of trying, Ormrod sold that farm, returned home, and had his home for the past 40 years built.
Ormrod retired from the ministry in 1997 with the intention of giving someone younger an opportunity for employment.
He didn’t stay retired for long. The Vegetable Marketing Commission came calling, asking Ormrod to visit local farms to determine the amount of crop loss they suffered from rain or late blight (a serious disease affecting potatoes and tomatoes).
“My job was to go around the province and determine how much of the potato crop loss was due to late blight and how much was just due to rain,” Ormrod shared.
Ormrod said he did “such a good job at that,” he made a transition to a new role as a food safety inspector, visiting farms and making sure they are using safe methods of production, and to “check and make sure they have toilets and hand-washing facilities for their employees.”
Ten years after that, Ormrod continued on, touring farms whose crops have been damaged, to determine if their losses are insurable or not.
“I’ve been doing that for 10 years, now,” he said.
On his own farm, Ormrod has an affinity for his pear trees.
“It’s effortless to grow pears,” he said. “You can hardly go wrong with pears if you’ve got the right variety.”
Dave’s Orchard is also becoming a hot spot for a popular seasonal orange gourd.
“Pumpkins have never been a main thing for us but we did so well last year, that I decided to do it again this year,” Ormrod said.
“People were just pouring in to buy pumpkins. We made more money in one day selling pumpkins than we ever did with anything else. I thought, ‘This is worthwhile doing, after all!’”
House has history
Old photos show the home Ormrod was raised in wasn’t painted for the first 20 years of its existence.
“My parents , John and Ruby Ormrod, bought the farm from Glover Lawrence in 1942,” Ormrod shared.
“Glover Lawrence then moved to Dawson Creek and used the money to start the Lawrence Meat Packing Co. as there was a big demand for meat to feed the crews building the Alaska Highway. At the time there was fear of a Japanese invasion”
With coaxing from Ruby, John painted the house a rusty brown colour in the 1950s.
It was a farm house with dirt floor basement plus four rooms on the main floor and one long room on the second floor. The roof was originally cedar shingles, later covered with duroid.
When that roof needed replacement, son Dave applied blue painted interlocking metal.
As that did not match the rust-coloured siding, the cedar shingles on the walls were painted blue around 1980.
Since then it has been easy to describe as the “blue house.” It is now being renovated inside by Dave’s stepson, Ron Freeman, who is a carpenter and painter.